The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(86) by J.R.Ward
“Hey, man, you okay?” Rhage asked.
iAm jumped. “Oh, shit.”
As the wind changed direction and carried the male’s scent over, Rhage popped his brows. The Shadow was covered with the smell of a female—and not as in store-bought perfume.
Oh, shit was right.
In all the time they’d known the guy, iAm had never paid any particular attention to the females. Or the males. Personally, Rhage had always thought the poor bastard was suffering from Phury Syndrome—a condition whereupon one brother was so fucked-up that the other fell into a black hole trying to save him.
Unfortunately, it didn’t look like Trez was going to come out of his tailspin anytime soon. But clearly, iAm had done something for himself.
By doing someone else.
Good for him, Rhage thought. About time the male had a break.
“So,” V drawled as he lit up a handrolled. “How was your night, Shadow.”
Clearly, he’d noticed the scent, too.
“Fine,” iAm said.
“Mm-hmm.” V exhaled. “Do anything in particular?”
“Nada,” Rhage replied as the three of them started for the vestibule. “Business as use.”
Actually, the night with Assail had been straight-up frustrating, but more than that, he’d kept waiting for word from his Mary about the female who’d been taken to Havers’s in a coma. Nothing. He’d heard nothing. Was she alive? Dead?
Goddamn, he’d met that mahmen only once—on the horrific night when they’d rescued her and her young from that abusive male. But the situation was bothering his Mary, weighing on her—and that meant it was really on his radar, too.
Plus, his shellan hadn’t been home now in two nights.
And he was beginning to get desperate.
Cell phones were no substitute for contact.
Not the kind he needed from her, at any rate.
As they filed into the vestibule, Rhage put his puss into the security camera’s lens. A second later, the lock was thrown and they went into the foyer. Last Meal was getting its groove on, doggen busy bringing food into the dining room, people gathering in the archway, more members of the household coming down the stairs.
iAm looked like he was ready to bolt, his eyes locking on the red carpet that ran up the stairs to the second floor—as if, in his mind, he was already halfway to his bedroom. Out of sight.
No doubt fast on his way to the shower.
Even though he’d just looked at his phone and the thing was on vibrate, Rhage took his cell out again, and rechecked to see if he’d missed anything—
Lassiter came out of the billiards room, his blond-and-black hair braided into a thick rope that came down over his pecs. He had a Yoo-hoo box in one hand and a sleeve of Starburst in the other and enough gold on him to give his body a karat weight of its own.
“Anyone else catch Real Housewives of New Jersey?”
People turned and stared at the guy.
“How are you still a guest in this house?” someone asked. “Haven’t you left yet?”
“I’ll call him a cab,” somebody else muttered. “Or maybe we can just airmail him off the mountain.”
“I got a potato launcher,” Butch said. “Small bore, but we can force him into the thing.”
“Oh, I ain’t leaving.” Lassiter smiled. “Come on, like I’d miss all this great free food and cable—wait a minute.” Those strange-colored glittering eyes narrowed on iAm … and then he shouted, “Holy shit, you got laid!”
In the frozen silence that followed, Rhage smacked himself in the head. “Angel, your tact meter is even more broken than mine, buddy.”
“So what’s on your mind, First Adviser?”
Abalone bowed as Wrath addressed him. “Thank you, my lord.” Stepping into the audience room, he closed the sliding door behind him. “Thank you very much.”
“Must be serious for you to shut us in together,” the King murmured.
“My lord…” He cleared his throat. “I seek always to serve you. In all ways.”
“Stipulated. So what’s doing?”
Not for the first time, Abalone wished he could see the male’s eyes. Then again, maybe it was better that those wraparounds hid so much. He preferred having proper control over his colon.
The presences of Phury and Zsadist registered, as did the reality of the time. They had no more than five or ten minutes left before they would have to return Wrath to the compound. But this couldn’t wait.
“My lord, I appreciate your allowing Paradise to stay here. It is most generous of you—”
“But you want her back home with you and you don’t like Throe being there.”
Abalone closed his eyes. “Yes, my lord. She is … the separation is more difficult than I anticipated. And please know it is not that I feel she is unsafe here. She is probably more safe—”
“I put you in a really shitty situation, didn’t I,” Wrath cut in. “It’s not fair to ask you to play babysitter for some asshole like that at the expense of your own personal life. I apologize.”
Abalone blinked. Of all the ways he had thought this would go, Wrath expressing regret had not been even close to the list. “My lord, please, I am the one failing you—”
“You want us to help you get him out?”
Phury spoke up. “Rhage would volunteer for that in a heartbeat.”
“My lord, you are so—”
Wrath ignored him and focused on the fighters. “So what’s our plan here? Are you two going over there with him now and doing the evac?”
Zsadist’s eyes changed from yellow to black. “Let’s do it—”
“Wait, wait.” Abalone put his palms out. “I shall speak with him.”
Wrath shook his head. “Not alone, you won’t. You’re too valuable to me. Tell Paradise to stay here one more night while we get the coast clear.”
And that was how, some ten minutes later, he ended up dematerializing to his home flanked by a pair of the King’s personal guards.
As he reformed in front of his Tudor’s heavy front door, he looked at the glowing windows and wondered where Throe was, what he was doing—what he was finding. The staff had said the male had slept around the clock that first night, and that was not likely to happen two times in a row. Accordingly, Abalone had taken care to lock a whole lot of doors before he’d left, and there were plenty of doggen with watchful eyes around.
Squaring his shoulders, he glanced over at the Brothers who stood on either side of him, like a set of Sun Tzu’s bookends.
“I should like to be the one to speak with him.”
Phury nodded. “It’s your house. You should do the disinviting.”
Abalone opened the copper lock with his key, and he felt none of his usual comfort upon crossing the threshold, no easing as his beloved butler came forth from the parlor to take his coat.
“Master,” the doggen said, bowing deeply. “May I serve your guests as well for Last Meal?”
“They shall not be staying. Where is Throe, may I ask?”
“He has been in his bedroom. I have been checking—the door has been closed and he has not come down even for meals. The one time I knocked, early in the evening, he replied that he was resting.”
Abalone did not hesitate. He took to the stairs, keeping the copper key in his hand. When he reached the top, he continued forward, passing doors until he got to the second-best guest room.
It had seemed an undeserved honor to put the male in the best guest room—even if Throe was none the wiser.
“Throe,” Abalone said sharply. “A word if I may.”
When there was no answer, he rapped on the closed panels with his knuckles—
The door opened of its own volition, revealing a dimly lit interior. He was about to lean in when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder and held him back.
“Allow my brother,” Phury said gently. “You do not know what you will find.”
Z walked in with a gun down by his thigh. A moment later, after those heavy footfalls traveled around the room, he said, “Clear.”
Abalone rushed forth. Indeed, the room was vacated—the bed had even been made. There was no sign that anyone had been there.
Except for the slightly open window across the way.
Verily, one of the multi-paned panels with their steel mesh overlays had been cracked and left ajar.
“He was not a prisoner here,” Abalone said as he went over and reclosed the thing. “Why escape?”
“The more important question,” Phury said, “was how can we be sure he’s actually gone? This is a big house. Lots of hiding places—”
“Maybe this will explain things.” Z went over to the desk in the corner and held up a sealed envelope. “It’s got your name on it.”
The Brother brought the thing over and handed it to Abalone.
With shaking hands, Abalone opened the back flap and took out the single sheet of paper that had been folded twice. The stationery was his own, with an engraving of a line drawing of the house at the top:
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